“We’re competing for our fair share of nurses”: How Mercy hospital is combatting a roughly ten year nursing shortage

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Mercy Hospital is looking for new ways to bring nurses in while keeping the ones already working.

“There’s a national shortage going on,” Mercy Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Betty Jo Rocchio said. “Those that are still in nursing are really traveling now, so they’re moving all around the country.”

Rocchio said there has been a nursing shortage for roughly ten years. She said the pandemic sped up the number of nurses leaving the workforce.

“The patient demand went up pretty sharply and we had no way to compensate with bringing on more nurses,” Rocchio said. “That’s why it’s been noticed, particularly during the pandemic, because the need has risen so quickly.”

Nurses were used to accommodating the short staff in the past.

“Over the years we have had leaner staffing from one year to the next or some people get ill,” Director of Nursing in Springfield Jessica Achtison said. “[We figured out] how we’re going to work together as a team to make sure that we take care of the patients that are there in our need in our community.”

Now, Mercy said nurses are burnt-out, especially those in critical care.

 “This pandemic has put a lot of mental, physical, as well as psychological pressure on nurses,” Rocchio said. “We are starting to watch some nurses leave the profession a little bit early, although they’re closer to retirement age and we’re not seeing the pipeline go into nursing schools.”

Jessica Achitson has worked as a nurse at Mercy for 16 years. She spent most of her time as a bed-side nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). She was made the Director of Nursing in March, but helps out on the floor once a month.

“Things that we took for granted pre-COVID to be able to dedicate higher resources and be able to really come dedicate a lot of time and energy sometimes wasn’t always there,” Achtison said. “These patients are going through all of this unknown, and they’re doing it with people that are not known to them. Trying to keep that connection with their families or their loved ones and keep people updated created its own challenges because they weren’t in the hospital with us and weren’t able to see their loved ones.”

Mercy is working on several programs to bring nurses in and keep them.

“We’re offering something called a part time flex position and what that means is flexible hours,” Rocchio said. “While you may want to work 20 hours a week, you may want to break it up into four hour shifts maybe five days a week. We’re starting to offer that to help with people that maybe don’t want to be on their feet for 20 hours, or that much physical work.”

Rocchio is hopeful to have that position at all Mercy hospitals in February of 2022. In the mean time, the hospital offers other incentives for current employees.

“We have unlicensed personnel that we’re starting to identify and put on a career track and send them to be licensed practical nurses and then on to be registered nurses and making sure that we’re keeping that pipeline moving and anybody that wants to go back to school that there’s a very little barrier for them to do that,” Rocchio said.

There’s also incentives for nursing students.

“We’re starting some pretty innovative programs with something called earn as you learn,” Rocchio said. “We’re helping our universities train their nurses at the clinical frontlines and help them make a living as well. As they’re working with us and working with our patients, we’re able to pay them as they’re going through nursing school.”

The hospital is hopeful it will see more nurses soon.

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